We saved money buying car tires, and you can too

    Consumer Reports News: May 22, 2013 11:08 AM

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    We typically buy tires in bulk for our tire test program, ordering upwards of almost 1,000 tires a year. To spot check our advice and current tire buying, we recently purchased and had mounted three sets just as any consumer would. We found that it is possible to get a good, convenient deal, and our experts will show you how.

    Last fall, we explored a similar concept, going through the motions to price tires from numerous retailers to illustrate why car tire prices vary. This time, we really put our money where our mouth is.

    We went to three major retailers—Sears, Tire Rack, and Town Fair Tire (a large tire dealership popular in New England)—and purchased a set of Continental ProContact EcoPlus tires in size 215/60R16 for our 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 S. The prices we paid did vary. Although we went to great efforts to provide an apples-to-apples comparison, there are some variables that could change who has the lowest price.

    I'll explain.

    Our tires buying advice and Ratings will help you find best tires for your money.

    The best deal was from Tire Rack. We purchased the four Continental tires online for $101 per tire and paid $47.82 to have them shipped to a recommended installer through Tire Rack's online service. Based on information provided, we chose the cheapest installer within our general location, who charged just $10 a tire to mount, balance and install on the car. Other recommended installers charge as much as $30, which would have chipped away at the deal.

    Once we ordered the tires, Tire Rack notified us by email when the tires were shipped and when the installer got them. Then all we had to do was call the installer and make an appointment. It only took a few days for the installer to take delivery of the tires and installation was less than an hour. Our out-the-door cost to put new rubber on the Altima was $523.05. Keep in mind that if we went with a pricier recommended installer, the total would have been over $600. Also, Tire Rack charges for shipping, so this cost will vary by shipping distance.

    Next up was buying the same set of tires from Town Fair Tire online. As with Tire Rack, the process was painless. We ordered the tires, selected the store branch in Connecticut we wanted them to be installed, and arranged a date and time for installation--all online. Total time for installation was about an hour and it cost $591.09. At $124 per tire, this was considerably more than the deal we got at Tire Rack. However, Town Fair also includes some additional services, such as free front-wheel alignment (four-wheel alignment is extra and recommended), free lifetime flat repair and rotation, and a 30-day test drive. Also, unlike Tire Rack, there is room to haggle the tire price.

    Our final stop was Sears. Here, too, we got an online price for our Continental tires, quoted at $112.06 each. One surprise is that you might need to call Sears and have them ordered, if they're not in stock. This happened to us. But three days later, a Sears service representative called back and asked us to come in at our convenience to have the tires installed. Total time was about an hour and half—we were not given a set appointment. The out-the-door price was $540.47 including four tires, taxes, and installation.

      Price per tire Four tires Shipping Installation Taxes Out-the-door cost
    TireRack $101.00 $404.00 $47.82 $40.00 $31.23 $523.05
    Sears $112.06 $448.24 Free $59.96 $32.27 $540.47
    Town Fair Tire $124.00 $496.00 Free $59.80 $35.29 $591.09

    Note: Installation includes dynamic balancing of four tires and placement on the car. Taxes reflect sale in CT.

    Our take:
    Surfing the web is a smart way to get the tire you want at a good price, and it is a heck of a lot better than driving around in search of tires. Before buying, review our tire buying guide and Ratings. Getting a better performing tire often doesn't cost more, and it can demonstrably improve your vehicle's safety.

    All three retailers delivered the tires as quoted in timely fashion and had them installed within our busy schedule in short order. We found the installation process problem free, despite our car having tire-pressure monitors. Sears and Town Fair even bagged our old tires so they would not soil the interior of our car. If you don't want the old tires, the retailer will scrap them, often for a fee.

    --Gene Petersen and Ryan Pszczolkowski

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